This Massachusetts tradition of labeling bizarre outcasts as witches dates back to the early 17th Century—even before the Salem Witch trials. Suppose there is some deranged, withered hag in YOUR neighborhood like my former next door neighbor Patricia Hale, some miserable wretch who constantly spies on you and lives to tattle, telling your parents in lurid detail about your misdeeds. What do you call her? A witch, of course. Admit it!
Like Patricia Hale and the alleged Salem witches, this kind of freak is an obvious target for persecution. Well, we may have been cruel to Patricia, but at least we didn’t execute her. We did, however, execute the ultimate prank on her—a stunt that was five years in the making.
The Golf Ball Incident
(The names have been changed to protect the guilty.)
Don’t pity poor Patricia Hale. She was a witch.
So we tortured our next door neighbor. Mercilessly. And she loved us for it.
Patricia Hale loved it when we yelled out “Hale smail!” This was our ebonic way of declaring that she emitted a foul odor. And she was overjoyed when Craig Stewart chucked a brick at her mailbox, leaving it with a big dent. She made a big frigging deal out of a dented mailbox, deeming it “a federal crime.” I mean, what else was this divorced old bag going to focus on during her pathetic drunken life?
“She’s gonna love this!” I declared just before I drove a golf ball against her aluminum siding with a hockey stick. “Score!” yelled Craig, doing his best imitation of Bruins announcer Fred Cusick. This was even better than the time Craig and I hocked a couple of loogies on bedroom window, and then had to listen to her theory that the dried globs must be spit because birds can’t shit sideways.
“I still think it’s bird crap,” I told her. What was I going to tell her? That Craig and I had a spitting contest on her window? “The wind must have blown it on the window,” I explained.
“Why is it only on your side of the house, where everything happens?” she said, no doubt alluding to the sneaker mark she found the previous week on her siding—a product of one of Craig’s Bruce Lee kicks.
Before I move on with the golf ball story, let me digress into the footprint incident. Her discovery of the sneaker print prompted the witch to invade our Wiffleball game and try to compare the mark to the bottom of Craig’s sneaker, demanding that he lift his foot up so she could see the tread mark. When he wouldn’t, she tried to examine his sneaker print in the worn down “batter’s box” in our yard. He slammed the bat on the dirt, destroying the evidence in a puff of dust.
“Hale smail!” yelled Adam Ferry as she walked away. Fucking witch.
Or maybe she was talking about the time Ron Williams whacked around her flowers with a sickle he found in my garage. Ron really had it in for her, and he gave her little “garden” a good little thrashing, petals and leaves flying everywhere, and then he took off. When her car pulled into her driveway an hour later, we know the witch was going to freak.
“I want to know which one of you is responsible for destroying my red peony bush!” she shrieked as I was about to pitch.
“Jesus, her pee-neey bush,” chuckled Craig.
We all began to laugh. Then we tried to ignore her, but she started sobbing, so we had to call a time out and gather around her ruined garden. After she threatened to call the police, Stan Janek went over Ron’s house, and when Stan told him the cops were coming, Ron brought his father back to the scene of the crime, Thank God my parents weren’t home. But I knew they were certainly going to get wind of this travesty.
“My garden!” she wailed. “Look at it! I have no recourse but to call the police.”
“That isn’t necessary, ma’am,” said Ron’s father authoritatively.
“Yes! It is!!” she replied, her voice breaking with emotion.
“My son and I—how can we appease you, ma’am?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“We can pay for the damage,” he offered. “How much do you think would cover it?”
“How can I put a price on a life’s work!!” she bleated.
Her life’s work. A fucking pee-neey bush. Well, she accepted the payoff of $15 and shut the fuck up.
Anyway, back to the golf ball incident. After I had used her house as a driving range, she came home and inspected her property for damage, as she always did, and she once again put a halt to yet another Wiffleball game and called me over, declaring that there was a golf ball mark, complete with the dimple pattern, on the side of her house. “Yeah, I guess that could be a golf ball mark,” I told her upon close inspection. “But, you see, we don’t have golf balls. We don’t have golf clubs. We play Wiffleball.”
“Well, I’m calling the police,” she said as she stormed toward her door, her marionette-like hinged jaw thrust forward like a bulldozer blade.
“Wait,” I said, thinking quickly. “All right, I was fooling around—I was slapping around a golf ball with my hockey stick. I was using my fence as a goal, but one of my shots got away. I hit your house. It was an accident. I’m sorry.”
“Well, OK,” she said as she turned around. “I won’t call the police this time. Just—just do this kind of thing on the other side of your yard. Or go play ball at the Glickman School. They have a huge field there.” She marched back to her house.
“Hale smail!” yelled Adam Ferry as she opened her door. She spun around, shot us a furious look, then went inside.
“Hale smail!” bellowed Craig as she slammed the door.
At this point, you’re probably feeling somewhat sorry for Patricia Hale, with her blubbering and all. Don’t let the crying fool you. She relished being in the spotlight.
She loved all the small-time vandalism shit because, you see, she was lonely. We provided excitement in her life. At least we were paying attention to her, because Lord knows she was obsessed with us. She always kept her windows and shades open about two inches, and she watched us like a hawk. Once, when Bob O’Brien got Craig in a headlock and threw him on the ground, we heard this screeching coming from out of nowhere: “You leave him alone!! You leave him alone!!” Jesus, that ruckus was coming from her window—she was checking out the fight the whole time! Classic! And there she was, defending Craig, the guy who hated her guts, the one who did the most damage to her property!
One night, after my Dad, my brother, and watched a Red Sox game on the TV in our porch, my father told me to make sure the car was locked before we went to bed. I went out to our driveway and, sure enough, our car was unlocked, so I opened the door, and a blood-curdling scream shattered the silent sultry summer night. Jesus fucking Christ! What the fuck was that?
“Oh, I’m sssorry,” she slurred through her window slit as my father came running out of the house. “I thought someone was breaking into your car.”
“What’s going on out here?” asked my father.
“Nothing,” I said. “Mrs. Hale is spying on us again.”
“I’m not spying,” said Patricia. “I thought I heard someone was breaking into your car.”
“Go to bed, Patricia,” said my father.
NO, don’t feel sorry for Patricia Hale. Again, when I tell you she wanted so desperately to be tortured by the neighborhood kids, you had better believe it. She had nothing going on in her life. Nothing. Except being at the mercy of our cruelty.
Patricia Hale must have really loved it the time her shoes went missing. The old souse used to stumble around doing yardwork in her bare feet, comically and maniacally rearranging her sprinklers and drunkenly weeding her garden. So one day, when Craig was thirteen, he walked by her yard on the way to my house, spied her shoes about five feet from the curb, and the minute she walked into her back yard to move a sprinkler, he snatched the shoes in one quick motion and tossed them into the bottom of a huge pine tree across the street. The tree was on the lawn of this hillbilly family who would never even dream of pruning this monstrosity, so the branches on the lower part of this evergreen were so overgrown, and the shoes were so obscured, that there was no way anyone was going to find those fuckers—for five years, that is. Yes, five years later they would finally come back home to Patricia Hale.
No, she didn’t interrupt any more Wiffleball games after her shoes vanished. She didn’t ask where the hell they were. She started giving us some space. We had stepped over the line, and we could see the fear in her eyes. This was just plain cruel on our part. In her view, we were fucking psychos. Possibly homicidal. I mean, who the fuck would steal a poor old woman’s shoes?
The answer: Craig. But Craig giveth back the shoes after he taketh them away.
No lie: five years later Craig and I were throwing a football around in the street, and after one of my errant passes, he had to dig it out of the bottom of the same pine tree. He wasn’t having much luck, so we grabbed a couple of hockey sticks to move some branches around and try to fish it out, and guess what we found, aside from the football. We each had a shoe stuck on the blades of our hockey sticks, contemplating our next move.
“Holy shit,” I said, laughing so hard that tears were coming down my cheeks. “What are we gonna do with these? Fling’em on her roof?”
“No,” said Craig with a mischievous look in his eye. “I’ve got a much better idea.”
You know very well where we had to put those rotting shoes, covered with dirt and pine needles. Yes, in the exact spot on the lawn where she had left them. We had forgotten about those shoes, and she had probably forgotten about them after a couple of years. But the good Lord didn’t, and he directed that football—and by extension us—right to Patricia’s long lost shoes.
Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? I sincerely hope that Patricia got a good laugh out of that one, because we sure did, and so did The Almighty. I never saw her reaction, but it must have been priceless.
Yes, we were cowardly bastards, destined to eternal damnation, but we were in agreement with the Supreme Being on one important principal: Hale smail!